The legal turmoil over the SS Central America treasure continues.
On Friday Donn Pearlman forwarded this press release on behalf of Columbus-America Discovery Group.
(Norfolk, Virginia) -- Federal court motions claiming misappropriation and trespass were filed on Thursday, May 15, 2014, against a Florida salvage company by the Ohio-based group that first discovered and recovered Gold Rush-era sunken treasure from the S.S. Central America, the fabled "Ship of Gold" that sank in 1857.
Columbus-America Discovery Group (CADG) claims that Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. is in violation of the law. CADG is asking that U.S. Marshals immediately seize all the treasure recently salvaged by Odyssey from the Central America. The recovered items currently are in Charleston, South Carolina, according to the court motions.
The S.S. Central America, a 278-foot long sidewheel steamer, was sailing from Panama to New York City with tons of California Gold Rush-era coins and ingots when it sank in a hurricane on September 15, 1857. There were 447 passengers and 101 crew members; 425 of them died when the ship sank.
In addition to the human tragedy, the loss of the expected gold in New York led to the financial "Panic of 1857" that resulted in the closings of some banks and factories. A 1992 Life Magazine cover story proclaimed the recovered gold, "The greatest treasure ever found."
During a scientific expedition in 1987, CADG originally located the wreck site in the Atlantic Ocean about 160 nautical miles off the coast of South Carolina and subsequently recovered thousands of gold coins and hundreds of gold ingots. CADG claims it still has the exclusive rights to that site and any retrieved gold and artifacts. CADG wants the federal court to reassert the company's protected rights to any additional treasure found at the site.
The motions filed Thursday with the United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk, Virginia, ask that federal marshals seize the latest items and any future items recovered by Odyssey and turn them over to CADG. The items are believed to still be on board the vessel OSV Odyssey Explorer now docked in Charleston, South Carolina, according to CADG's court filings.
"Columbus-America Discovery Group, which has done several previously impossible feats in the deep ocean and has been sued and challenged continuously for more than 20 years, is still fighting for its right to the deep ocean shipwreck site of the SS Central America," said Milt Butterworth, CADG President.
"We are asking the court to uphold our permanent injunction, and allow CADG to fulfill its original purpose: to conduct multi-disciplinary research and develop sophisticated deep-ocean technology, and to locate, explore, and recover the remains of the S.S. Central America.," Butterworth stated.
One of the court motions states: "On or about April 14th an expedition aboard the OSV ODYSSEY EXPLORER...intruded into the injuncted sea area
without the Court’s knowledge and permission...."
The motion also states: "In order to protect its Court awarded rights and its maritime lien interest in any gold or artifacts recovered from the wreck of the S.S. CENTRAL AMERICA, it is imperative that CADG be authorized by the Court to have the U.S. Marshal execute a warrant in rem against these same artifacts...."
CADG claims that Recovery Limited Partnership and its contract-salvor Odyssey Marine Exploration "and any person aiding, abetting and/or assisting the violation of the rights and protections of CADG are interlopers, have engaged in acts of conversion, misappropriation of tangible and intellectual property rights, trespass, violation of CADG's injunctive, possessor, salvage and other rights, and have violated the permanent injunction."
So what's going on here? Wasn't Odyssey Marine working for the
Columbus-America Discovery Group, the original investment team that Tommy Thompson and Bob Evans sailed for?
The April 25, 2014 Bloomberg News
article said "Evans ... will represent the original investors and act as a scientific adviser"
An Odyssey Marine press release states that:
"Recovery Limited Partnership (RLP) was organized in 1985 as an Ohio limited partnership to finance the SS Central America project. Columbus-American Discovery Group LLC (CADG), as agent for RLP, initiated an admiralty action in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia to establish ownership of the shipwreck and all of its contents. After more than a decade of litigation, the court ruled that CADG owned 92.5% of the recovered gold and issued permanent injunctions which prohibit any party other than CADG or RPL from operations related to the site."
Odyssey Marine Exploration Selected for Recovery of SS Central America Gold
So legally, CADG and RLP are different entities and are the only organizations permitted to salvage the site. One of them hired Odyssey to do just that, and now the other is suing.
To me the craziest thing about this is the "without the Court’s knowledge" part. Uh, this expedition has been in the newspapers and all over the 'net for weeks (the above press release was published March 3rd, and the Bloomberg article was nearly two months ago).
Bob Evans laid out the history for us in his April 21, 2013 E-Sylum
article on the disposition of the treasure recovered in the 1980s. Every bit of the treasure was accounted for, documented, published and signed off on by the insurance companies in the early 1990s. The first lawsuits were from the Columbus-America investors seeking payment from Tommy Thompson, and there is an Ohio state court case against Thompson, who has been missing for years.
But there is also a Federal case, also brought against Thompson by the sonar company that was employed in the 1980s search, claiming they are also entitled to a share of the treasure.
This May 16th Associated Press
article sheds a little more light on the matter:
Last month and with the approval of an Ohio judge, deep-sea divers with Tampa, Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration returned to the shipwreck and began recovering gold under a contract with the court-appointed receiver over Thompson's former company, Recovery Limited Partnership.
New fight emerges in Ohio treasure hunter dispute
Columbus-America and its current president, Milt Butterworth, are now fighting to gain control over any recently recovered gold, stop the ongoing expedition and conduct any future trips to recover the gold.
Late last week, federal Judge Rebecca Beach Smith declined to rule which company has the rights to the sunken ship but did find that Odyssey Marine "is qualified to perform the ongoing salvage operation," ordering that it can continue doing so.
This whole thing gets messier and messier by the day.
Hopefully there will be another nice numismatic haul come to market at some point, but the legal wrangling could tie things up for some time. I did manage to reach Bob Evans today and he provided the following statement. Thanks!
Bob Evans writes:
For my fellow numismatists,
Obviously, I cannot comment on the ongoing litigation covered in the stories and press releases now appearing. But I want my friends in the numismatic community to know that I intend to continue to be a force for good in the grand enterprise of which I am now a part. I am very pleased that I have resumed my role as chief scientist/historian for the exploration of the S.S. Central America shipwreck site.
I find myself once more at the point of first contact, discovering and identifying its numismatic and historical wonders as the treasure emerges from the deep. My colleagues aboard the RV Odyssey Explorer are world class, professional, attentive and careful. We are observing and recording with archaeological and scientific detail equal to or exceeding the achievements of twenty-plus years ago, with modern equipment and precision, and with all the respect that our important subject deserves. What results from this effort is and will be glorious.
My very best,
To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
S.S. CENTRAL AMERICA CASE COMING TO TRIAL
BOB EVANS ON THE DISPOSITION OF THE S.S. CENTRAL AMERICA TREASURE
BOB EVANS ON THE LATEST S.S. CENTRAL AMERICA ARTICLE
BOB EVANS SETS SAIL FOR THE S.S. CENTRAL AMERICA
ODYSSEY SS CENTRAL AMERICA RECONNAISSANCE DIVE
Wayne Homren, Editor
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